Ads: can’t see for lookin’.
The term ‘Agency’ is all-inclusive, and is used to describe a vast array of industrial brand marketing services providers:
– integrated through-the-line
– single discipline – design, digital, direct marketing, public relations,
– an agency network of single discipline providers often used when International support is required
– small, multi-discipline strategic/creative teams, i.e. Oil The Wheels.
The first, and I would say crucial, step to choosing the right agency starts not by looking at who is out there.
Don’t be seduced by slick agency new business teams, but understand your needs, or those of your marketing team, and the type/level of marketing support required.
1. Strategic advice – some clients will have developed the comms strategy internally and are only looking for someone to drive it. Others need grass-roots support; help with all aspects involved with bringing a new product/service to market.
2. Creative ideas – the development of the ‘BIG’ idea that will work across single or multi-channels, online/offline.
3. Design & production support – to support the client’s in-house studio or to undertake all design & print work and help keep the client’s involvement to a sensible minimum.
4. International support.
5. All, or some of the above.
From here you can start wading through the piles of unsolicited cred presentations that you’ve kept and review other directory sources to find an agency, or agencies, that on the surface just might meet your requirement.
Once you have a shortlist you may want to compare each agency on criteria that you believe are important to your business:
Size of agency – do you want to be a big fish in the agency’s comparatively small pond, which may result in a better level of service. Or are you happy, and can afford, to work with a large agency group who are probably more financially secure and may be able to offer a broader range of specialist services from within.
Sector Experience – this can be useful, i.e. specialist industrial marketing agency, and will mean that the agency should come up to speed far quicker than one without the relevant experience.
Location – In this now internet-enabled world, location should not really be an issue.
A good and enthusiastic agency will be on-site 10 minutes before a meeting, wherever.
However, location can be used to dramatically reduce the shortlist, quashing the enthusiasm of agencies who are not the right fit but will not take ‘no’ for an answer.
In my experience, client visits to the agency are very infrequent – I have a client of 10 years that has still not visited our offices, they are more comfortable for us to go to them when required.
Get them In – Marketing & advertising support, like sales support, is a ‘people business’.
Going back to my first point, this process is driven by meeting individual client needs.
Nothing is more important for both client and agency than the feeling that I/we could work with these guys, i.e. chemistry is king.
Trust is earned over time but in the absence of time, go with gut-feeling.
Client Testimonials – ask to speak with a couple of existing clients.
No one is going to put you in touch with someone who is not going to sing their praises.
However, professional integrity is a powerful thing and people will often give a very fair account of their current relationship.
Also, check them out on Linkedin.com, Facebook.
Awards – recognition by the industry of an agency’s work must be a good thing. However, as a past judge I have to say that some winners are worthier than others…it’s your call on this one!
It’s crucial that the process starts with you having a good understanding of the type of support that you/your in-house team require before approaching any agency.
As the process unfolds and the agency choice narrows, ask yourself this question: if you had sufficient work and you could afford their salaries, would you poach the agency’s strategic/creative account team?
If you wouldn’t employ them, then don’t appoint them!